Two-time Guinness World Record holder, ace cyclist Adil Teli’s story is one of hard work, focus, obsession and an unflinching support from the family and others.
When I first met him in Delhi, Adil came across as shy, humble and quite a reserved young man. He took his time but once he started to relate his story, his eyes lit up and he was all of a champion.
25-year-old Adil Ahmad Teli is a two-time Guinness World Record holder in road cycling. The first record came when he cycled all the way from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and the second when he went from Leh to Manali. On both the occasions, he beat the previous records by a considerable margin making it almost a formidable challenge for anyone wanting to attempt it.
Born to a daily wager, Abdul Rashid Teli, Adil belongs to village Alambal-Mirgund, Narbal in North Kashmir’s Baramulla district. He has three older sisters and a younger brother. After completing his higher secondary at Magam, he did his BA from Gandhi Memorial College, Srinagar and is currently pursuing his MPED (Master’s in Physical Education) from GNDU, Amritsar, where he also did his BPED. He then intends to do a year’s training course at the NIS, Patiala followed by a six-month course in Switzerland.
The First Machine
Adil got his first bicycle when he was in class 8 to go to school. He instantly took to it and would spend hours cycling around, even if sent for a 10-minute chore by his mother. He not only enjoyed cycling but found it therapeutic too.
His first-ever competition was in an inter-school competition in 2012 when he was in 10th class. In 2013, he began to take cycling as a sport seriously and stood seventh in the MTB Nationals (mountain bike) held in Kerala. And there has been no looking back since, although he had to take a break in 2014 for his class 12 exam.
Adil preferred the road cycling to mountain biking in which he won a silver medal in the inter-collegiate tournament in Kashmir in 2015. The same year he got selected for the All India Inter-University competition. In 2016, he represented Kashmir in the senior national championships. He was part of the 12-member team from Kashmir.
In 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, he continued to represent J&K in the road races at the senior nationals. In 2019, he took upon himself the ultra-endurance cycling challenge and cycled from Srinagar to Leh, a distance of 440kms which he covered non-stop in 26 hours and 30 minutes. This event motivated him to take more road cycling challenges.
In 2022 Adil completed the Kashmir to Kanyakumari distance of 3,600 km to enter the Guinness World Records. The previous record was held by Om Mahajan from Nashik after he cycled 3,600 kilometres from Srinagar to Kanyakumari in 8 days 7 hours and 38 minutes. This, Adil says, has been a life changing event for him.
Prior to that, the Guinness World Record for the fastest bicycle ride from Srinagar to Kanyakumari was held by Om’s uncle Mahendra Mahajan, which was broken by the Indian Army’s Lt Col Bharat Pannu, who cycled the distance in eight days and nine hours.
Sai Patil, a 10-year-old girl, accompanied by her father, Ashish Patil, completed the Kashmir to Kanyakumari challenge in 38 days, cycling more than 120km per day. The duo started their journey on December 16, 2021.
Application to the Guinness World Records was submitted by Adil three months prior to the event, as is the norm. He received the confirmation in first week of February 2021.
Adil started his journey on NH44, the longest highway of India, from the iconic Ghanta Ghar at Lal Chowk in Srinagar around 7:30 am on March 22, 2021 and reached Kanyakumari around 9 am on March 30, 2021. The record-setting challenge was flagged off by the Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir, P.K.Pole.
The entire Lal Chowk area was closed off and traffic diverted for this event. There was a huge gathering of people on both sides of the road to watch Adil begin his challenge. His parents and other members of the family were present too. The Smart City hoardings in Srinagar announced the event. Adil started the road trip with a traditional cup of kehwa.
Traffic was also stopped at the Qazigund tunnel on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, which was under construction, to allow Adil and the two cars carrying his crew members through.
The crew consisted of his physio (Murthy Ganeshan), nutritionist (Sunil), witness/ camera/ social media manager (his cousin Mohsin), log checking/payments (Imtiyaz of Abraq Agro), cycle mechanic (Sonu Gupta of Bombay Cycle Café), two drivers and Akshay Kaul, a Delhi-based landscape architect, who has been his constant mentor and morale booster. Log keeper and witness collector is essential to monitor timing, heart rate, and constant relaying of information, as evidence, to the Guinness World Record.
Speaking about his struggles, Adil said, “I had been wanting to attempt this since long but was unable to since it involved huge costs as the road trip needed a physiotherapist, nutritionist, cameraman, mechanic and a log keeper. I was unable to find sponsors.”
That is when his friend Naveed Yousuf, a rugby player from South Kashmir, introduced him to Abraq Agro Fresh LLP for sponsorship. The total sponsor amount was Rs. 16 lakhs. Support came from Riaz Ahmad, Nashiet and Atif of the Kashmir-based Abraq Agro.
The start was scheduled for 17th March, 2021 which got postponed to the 22nd due to heavy rain, though, it rained on the 22nd as well.
Due to initial hurdles, Adil could cover only 399 kms on the first day when he reached Punjab and was behind schedule by 20km. In Punjab, it was raining incessantly.
On the 3rd day, when they entered Delhi, the weather changed for the better and Adil covered 435 kms on the fourth day, taking a much needed lead from the previous record.
He would sleep on a mat on the roadside, while the crew remained in the cars. Adil would ride for 18 continuous hours, stopping for short rests every 150 kms for a physio, or food at a highway dhaba. His diet consisted of protein shakes, tender coconut water, natural juices, chocolate, chicken, and rice balls with paneer. Many a time, he would eat or drink while riding.
On the 7th day of continuous cycling, when around 600kms were left to be covered, Adil had a painful meniscus tear in his left knee. His knee was swollen and he had cuts and bruises from long hours of cycling. He was in so much of pain that he thought of quitting. He called his mother at 2:30 am and told her about his injury and that he was thinking of giving up. His mother asked him not to give up and bear the pain for a day more. She encouraged him to complete the event while explaining the lasting legacy versus the temporary pain in his knee. Moreover, the event was being watched by thousands back home on Facebook Live and everyone was cheering and praying for him.
Adil continued cycling and early morning of the 9th day, he reached the last point of Kanyakumari covering the entire distance in 8 days 1 hour and 39 minutes, beating the earlier record by 5 hours and 59 minutes. He was received by the SSP of Kanyakumari and Atif and Muzzafar of Abraq Agro, his sponsors.
After cycling for eight days at an average speed of 18.1 km, Adil had burnt more than 80,000 calories. Being exhausted and having a painful knee, he nearly collapsed and had to be put on a dextrose drip in a local hospital.
Rewards and Recognition
On his return to Srinagar, he was taken to the V.I.P lounge at the airport where he was greeted by his sponsors, parents and grandfather. Outside the airport and along the highway, people of all age groups had lined up on both sides to cheer for the champion. In his village, he was welcomed with garlands and cakes. During the trip on Friday, his name and event were announced in the village Jama Masjid where people were asked to pray for him.
He was invited to meet the Lieutenant Governor (LG), Manoj Sinha, and his advisor. Adil received the best cycling award from Kiren Rijju, the Cabinet Minister of Law and Justice, and the Young Leadership Award from the LG at SKICS. He was invited to several award shows later on. Adil received his Guinness World Record certificate three months after completion of the road trip.
He was wished by Kapil Dev on WhatsApp video. The former Indian cricket captain has promised Adil for help in the future. Suresh Raina, the Indian cricketer, John Cena, the professional wrestler at WWE and Guinness Book of World Records followed him on twitter.
One of the proudest moments for Adil, and his father, was when he learnt that his biography had been included in the school history book for class 6. Adil was amused when informed by a local school teacher of a 6th class boy whose answer to the exam question ‘Who is Adil Teli?, was woh hamara hamsaya hai – he’s our neighbour.
Back in Amritsar, Adil continues his training with the GNDU cycling coach, Rajesh Kaushik from Haryana. He has also trained Mashooq Maqbool, the silver medalist in All India University cycling championship which was held at Punjab University, Patiala on December 9, 2021. Mashooq, son of a poor carpenter, hails from Agrikalan, Magam in north Kashmir’s district Baramulla. He is a four-time state gold medallist in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 respectively and has also stood 4th among toppers in the nationals in 2018. Adil Teli has been his inspiration.
Adil’s training, besides core and cardio training in the gym for one and half hours, includes 80 kms cycling daily and 120 kms on the weekends. Before his events, he cycles for 230 kms twice a week.
He took part in the 140 km track race at Kurukshetra in 2021 but at the 137 km mark there was a crash involving 25 cyclists. Adil suffered a major cut to his ear. Later in the year, he set out to break another Guinness World Record of cycling from Leh to Manali. He applied in June 2021 and received confirmation on 30th August. He arrived in Leh in July, 40 days prior to the start in order to acclimatize to the local conditions of high altitude and low oxygen levels. During his preparations, Adil rode six times up to the Khardungla Pass at the height of 18379 feet above sea level. He would practise daily on the astro-turf.
The earlier record was held by Lt Col Bharat Pannu who completed the 472 km stretch in 35 hours and 32 minutes. Preeti Maske, a 45-year-old cyclist from Pune paddled a distance of 429 kilometres to become the fastest female to cycle solo from Leh to Manali. She covered the approximately 430-km-long stretch in a record time of 55 hours and 13 minutes.
Adil began his cycling with the same crew sans the nutritionist. The official co-sponsors were: J&K Tourism, Symtec Cements, and Versalite.
Addidas have signed him as their brand ambassador for two years. BVG India sponsored his nutrition for eight months after the Kashmir to Kanyakumari trip. Adil’s sports nutrition costs him a minimum of Rs. 20-22k per month.
The Leh to Manali trip started on 11th September 2022, at 5:41 am and was flagged off by SP Leh City. This trip included five high altitude passes – Taglang La, Lachalung La, Nakee La, Baralacha La and Rohtang pass. The day temperature was around 1 degree Celsius and the night temperature was -1 degree Celsius. His hands would freeze while cycling. He took short breaks to warm his hands with the car heating syastem. On this trip, his physio had to put in a lot of effort as Adil suffered from backaches and leg pains due to cycling at a high altitude with less oxygen.
Adil arrived in Manali the next day at 10:59 am after cycling continuously for 29 hours without sleep. He completed the road trip in 29 hours 18 minutes and 21 seconds, beating the previous record by 6 hours and 14 minutes.
After these two trips, Adil was covered on the ‘OMG Yeh Mera India’ show on History TV. Krushna Abhishek, the show host named him as the ‘Superhuman of India’.
The Road Ahead
Adil has decided on creating his own record year, which he doesn’t want to reveal yet. Before that he’s now preparing for the upcoming cycling race in Dubai, February 2023.
His dream is to participate in international events like the American race from West to East coast. The Race Across America, or RAAM, is an ultra-distance road cycling race held across the United States that started in 1982 as the Great American Bike Race. In length, the RAAM is comparable to the Tour de France, but the races differ to a great extent. The courses of both races have varied over the years. However, in the Race Across America, the direction has always been from the west coast to the east coast of the United States, approximately 3,000 miles (4,800 km), making it a transcontinental event. More importantly, the race has no stages, i.e., it is in principle a nonstop event from start to finish, with the fastest competitors needing slightly over a week to complete the course. By contrast, the Tour de France features a different route each year (alternating between clockwise and counter clockwise circuits around France) and is about 2,300 miles long; the distance is divided into individual daily stages spread over the course of about 3 weeks and contested at much higher speeds. Having to ride continuously for days with little to no sleep puts this event in the category of ultra-distance cycling races.
“It was my parents,” reiterates Adil, “who motivated and encouraged me and have always stood by me for cycling professionally.”
He was also inspired by Mohammad Akbar Khan. 29-year- old Akbar belongs to Check-e-Kawoosa in the central Kashmir’s Budgam district. Both he and his brother, Feroz Khan are cyclists. He won gold medals in several inter-collegiate sports events and was selected as National Technical Official (NTO) for the 41st Asian Track Cycling Championship at Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi from 18 June to 22 June 2022. He completed his PhD in ‘Structure of a Cyclist and Cycling in India’ at Shri Venkateshwara University, Uttar Pradesh.
Looking ahead, Adil and sportspersons like him need a lot of support. Training and nutrition costs are high too. For every event and for his continuous training, Adil needs sponsors.
Equipment and gear for individual events like cycling are very costly. Adil’s cycle, the Cervello S3, is a Canadian make and costs him Rs.3.75 lakhs and tyre changes, which can be frequent due to wear and tear on long road trips, cost Rs.1.75 lakhs.
Adil believes that sport is an excellent option for the struggling youth of Kashmir. At the same time, he laments the lack of sports facilities, infrastructure, coaches and equipment- in Kashmir, especially for the youth residing in far-flung areas, where, he believes, there is no dearth of talent. “There are no cycling coaches in Kashmir,” says Adil. For most part of his early days as a competitor, he was a self-taught cyclist.
Adil’s story is of sheer grit, consistency, self-discipline and hard work. “There are no shortcuts to achieving your dreams,” he says. Cycling for him is therapeutic. And he’s ever-grateful to his parents for their constant encouragement and support, despite the fact there was no way for them to have helped him financially. “Abu has always been my pillar of strength,” he adds.
Based in New Delhi, Jaspreet Kaur is an architect and urban designer. She is the trustee of Lymewoods and Span Foundation.